Some new scams had “come from nowhere” and taken off, including business email scams which represented about $60 million in losses in 2018. After hacking a company’s email system, scammers were sending fake invoices to customers but directing payment to a new account.
Old scams were increasing, with a 900 per cent increase in reports of an Australian Tax Office (ATO) scam where taxpayers are threatened with arrest unless they pay outstanding bills immediately.
The ATO reported this month that taxpayers lost more than $250,000 in March through paying “tax debts” to scammers.
“They [the scammers] really are everywhere, and you can’t be too careful with your personal information. Every time you are asked for money, you really need to check that you are dealing with the right person,” Ms Rickard said.
The ACCC report, Targeting Scams, includes details of more than 378,000 scams reported by consumers and businesses to the ACCC’s Scamwatch, the Australian Cybercrime Online Reporting Network (ACORN) and other federal and state government agencies.
These reports represented only a fraction of those occurring. Many victims were too embarrassed to report it and experts said victims are often reluctant to believe they had been conned.
One victim who lost $50,000 to an online trader who “specialised” in forex trading was “very embarrassed” to have been tricked. Initially he earned good returns. But the online platform was a fiction, with profits going to the scammers. When the victim wanted to withdraw his money, the scammers intensified pressure.
“They said I would lose everything unless I invested more … they were very convincing and professional,” he told regulators. “They stated I would be ‘kicked off the market’ because my trades were failing and I was reduced to 3 per cent of my initial investment. By that point, I knew it was all fake.”
Con artists targeted the most vulnerable and poorest of the community, including 7800 reports of scams by people who had a disability or a chronic illness.
Indigenous consumers reported $3 million in losses, an 80 per cent increase.
“Scammers are using pressure and fear tactics combined with technology to trick people into
parting with their money,” Ms Rickard said.
While women reported being scammed more often than men, male victims reported losing more. Men gave $57 million to scammers, compared to $49 million by women. People aged 55 to 64 lost more money than any other age group, but younger people are more likely to report scams.
Nearly half of all stings occurred via phone, with an increase in phone-based scams from 40 per cent to 47 per cent.
Regulators were hoping social media platforms and telecommunications providers would introduce technical solutions to prevent these calls.
The Australian Communications and Media Authority released a discussion paper in April asking experts and telcos for ideas on how they could work with government to fight the nation’s $55 million phone scam problem.
ACMA member Fiona Cameron said phone spoofing – where someone disguises the number they are calling or texting from by changing their caller ID – was challenging for law enforcement.
The regulator allocates phone numbers to Australian phone service providers but she said it was difficult to track or block spoofed numbers as they happen.
Julie Power is a senior journalist at The Sydney Morning Herald.